Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review: Why you should want it — and why you shouldn’t

For the longest time, the Galaxy Note line has represented the best of the best, the “kitchen sink” of Android phones where nothing was left out. With the Note 10 series, this has changed. The Note 10 Plus still delivers almost everything a power user could want, but the “regular” Note 10 seems like a watered-down version of what the Note has always been about. Despite the very real reasons to be less than impressed with the Note 10 at face value, it was still the one I wanted. Find out why in our Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review.

A note about this review: I used the Exynos version of the Galaxy Note 10 for two weeks on Google Fi in Germany, Italy, and the US. It was running software build PPR1.180610.011.N970FXXU1ASHE on Android 9 Pie with the September 1, 2019 security patch. Android Authority purchased the phone used for this Samsung Galaxy Note 10 review.

Because we’ve already reviewed the Galaxy Note 10 Plus extensively – and the bulk of that assessment holds true here — we will instead focus on those areas where you can expect a different experience. I’ll also try to answer some of the questions you might have if you’re tossing up between buying the Galaxy Note 10, Note 10 Plus, or even the Galaxy S10.

What’s the difference between the Note 10 and Note 10 Plus?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 back view with S Pen on an angle

There are four main differences between the Note 10 and the larger Note 10 Plus.

  • Screen size and resolution
  • Battery size and charging speed
  • microSD expansion (Note 10 Plus only)
  • Memory (more RAM and storage on the Note 10 Plus)

The Note 10 Plus also gets an additional Depth Vision camera, but we won’t cover that in detail here as the only difference you’ll really notice is that edge detection and bokeh in portrait mode isn’t as good on the Note 10 as it is with the Note 10 Plus camera.

  Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus
Display 6.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O
2,280 x 1,080 resolution
401ppi
HDR10+
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O
3,040 x 1,440 resolution
498ppi
HDR10+
SoC Global: Samsung Exynos 9825
U.S.: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Global: Samsung Exynos 9825
U.S.: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
GPU Global: Mali-G76
U.S.: Adreno 640
Global: Mali-G76
U.S.: Adreno 640
RAM 8GB (LTE model)
12GB (5G model, Korea only)
12GB
Storage 256GB
No microSD card slot
UFS 3.0
256/512GB
microSD card slot
UFS 3.0
Cameras Rear
Ultra-wide: 16MP sensor, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 123-degree field-of-view
Wide-angle: 12MP sensor, Dual Pixel autofocus, ƒ/1.5+ƒ/2.4 apertures, OIS, 77-degree field-of-view
Telephoto: 12MP sensor, ƒ/2.1 aperture, OIS, 45-degree field-of-view

Front
10MP sensor, Dual Pixel autofocus, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 80-degree field-of-view
Rear
Ultra-wide: 16MP sensor, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 123-degree field-of-view
Wide-angle: 12MP sensor, Dual Pixel autofocus, ƒ/1.5+ƒ/2.4 apertures, OIS, 77-degree field-of-view
Telephoto: 12MP sensor, ƒ/2.1 aperture, OIS, 45-degree field-of-view
Depth Vision camera: VGA, ƒ/1.4 aperture, 72-degree field-of-view

Front
10MP sensor, Dual Pixel autofocus, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 80-degree field-of-view
Audio No headphone jack No headphone jack
Battery 3,500mAh
12-watt wireless charging
4,300mAh
15-watt wireless charging
IP rating IP68 IP68
Sensors Note 10: Accelerometer, barometer, ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, gyro, geomagnetic, hall, proximity

S Pen: 6-axis sensor including gyro and acceleration sensors
Note 10 Plus: Accelerometer, barometer, ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, gyro, geomagnetic, hall, proximity

S Pen: 6-axis sensor including gyro and acceleration sensors
Biometric authentication Fingerprint sensor
Face recognition
Fingerprint sensor
Face recognition
Network LTE
- Enhanced 4x4 MIMO
- Up to 7CA, LAA, LTE Cat. 20
- Up to 2.0Gbps download, up to 150Mbps upload

5G
- 5G None Standalone (NSA), Sub6 / mmWave
LTE
- Enhanced 4x4 MIMO
- Up to 7CA, LAA, LTE Cat. 20
- Up to 2.0Gbps download, up to 150Mbps upload

5G
- 5G None Standalone (NSA), Sub6 / mmWave
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz)
Wi-Fi 6
VHT80 MU-MIMO
1024QAM
Up to 1.2Gbps download, up to 1.2Gbps upload
Bluetooth 5.0
ANT+
USB-C
NFC
GPS, Galileo, Glonass, BeiDou
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz)
Wi-Fi 6
VHT80 MU-MIMO
1024QAM
Up to 1.2Gbps download, up to 1.2Gbps upload
Bluetooth 5.0
ANT+
USB-C
NFC
GPS, Galileo, Glonass, BeiDou
Software Android 9 Pie
Samsung OneUI
Android 9 Pie
Samsung OneUI
Dimensions and weight Note 10: 71.8 x 151 x 7.9mm
168g

S Pen: 5.8 x 4.35 x 105.08mm
3.04g
Note 10 Plus: 77.2 x 162.3 x 7.9mm
196g

Note 10 Plus 5G: 198g

S Pen: 5.8 x 4.35 x 105.08mm
3.04g
Colors Aura Glow, Aura White White, Aura Black, Aura Blue Aura Glow, Aura White White, Aura Black, Aura Blue

What’s a smaller Galaxy Note 10 like?

Really great. The smaller size of the Note 10 is actually the main reason I wanted it over the larger version. I generally use the smaller Pixel 3 as my daily driver, so I like a more easily pocketable phone. The thought of a phone that can do everything a Note can but in a smaller form factor was too enticing a prospect to refuse.

If you’re more into your phone being light and pocket-friendly, the smaller Note 10 might be for you too. It’s 13.5% smaller and 17% lighter than the Note 10 Plus but still does most of the same stuff. Of course, the smaller Note 10 footprint — about the same as the Galaxy S10 — means you don’t quite get the full-blown, super-immersive Note 10 Plus experience, but you do get something very close.

The smaller size of the Note 10 is actually the main reason I wanted it over the larger version.

At 6.3 inches on the diagonal, the Note 10 is far from tiny, but it still provides noticeably less screen real estate than the 6.8-inch Note 10 Plus. Full HD+ resolution on the Note 10 will be plenty crisp enough for most, but the Quad HD+ resolution on the Note 10 Plus offers 25% higher pixel density. The Note 10 Plus will naturally attract those wanting a larger and sharper display, but do more pixels always mean better? I would argue no, at least not for me.

I can’t say I found the screen experience on the Note 10 to be anything less than fantastic. The Note 10 is about the same size as most other regular-sized phones right now, but it has one of the best screens you’ll see on any of them. No, the Note 10 display isn’t technically as good as the Note 10 Plus, but it does offer as much as most people need in a much more compact size.

The main difference we found in our testing was that the Note 10’s auto-brightness level was lower than the Note 10 Plus, but otherwise it’s much the same screen — just smaller and with fewer pixels. It should be noted the Note 10 Plus defaults to Full HD+ resolution out of the box to conserve battery, so unless you switch it to Quad HD+ yourself, you’ll be getting the same experience as the smaller version.

What is the Galaxy Note 10 battery life like?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 home screen display

One of the upshots of a smaller, lower-resolution screen is battery savings, something you need given the Note 10’s meager 3,500mAh cell. Like the screen, the Note 10 battery is not exactly tiny, but it is far from what most people would want on a phone like this. Fortunately, battery performance on the Note 10 is about the same as on the larger version’s 4,300mAh battery. Unfortunately, they’re both just kind of OK.

Battery performance on the Note 10 is about the same as on the larger version. Unfortunately, they're both just kind of OK.

When I first started using the Note 10, it had terrible battery life. I was outside a lot, using cellular data and shooting lots of photos with the screen brightness set pretty high. On those first few days, I was averaging around three hours of screen-on time. After that, I spent more time inside with screen brightness set around 30%, mostly connected to Wi-Fi and not using the camera so much. By that point, my screen-on time was anywhere between 5.5 hours and 6.5 hours. That’s pretty solid, but not exactly based on heavy use. Besides the change in circumstances, I also think Samsung’s Adaptive Battery had begun to learn my habits, as I experienced the same steadily improving battery life as Eric did with the Note 10 Plus.

On the downside, you can expect a noticeable difference in charging speeds between the two versions. The smaller Note 10 comes with a 25W fast charging brick and you can buy an optional 12W wireless charger. The Note 10 Plus bumps that up to 45W fast charging and 15W wireless charging. This is disappointing because the Note 10 has a smaller battery, and yet takes longer to charge than its larger sibling — around 15% longer at just under an hour and a half. The Note 10 also supports 9W reverse wireless charging if that’s something you’re into.

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No memory, mo’ problems

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 edge view bottom

In a move that some have seen as a deliberate gimping of the regular Note 10 to push you towards the larger more expensive version, Samsung decided to remove microSD expansion in the Note 10. Considering the Note 10 Plus comes with up to 512GB of storage and the Note 10 is capped at 256GB, the smaller Note would have been the natural choice for microSD expansion, but this is not the case.

The lack of a larger memory configuration or microSD card slot means you simply don't have an option for more storage.

256GB of storage is going to be more than enough for a lot of people, but the lack of a larger memory configuration or microSD card slot means you simply don’t have an option for more storage. A lot of Note owners have long used microSD cards to ferry around huge music or video libraries they don’t want to access via the cloud. That option is gone with the smaller Note 10 and it’s a bitter pill to swallow. If you’ve never relied on a microSD card then it won’t matter to you, but it did to me.

Besides memory expansion, the 512GB Note 10 Plus comes with 12GB of RAM, while the Note 10 only comes with 8GB of RAM on the sole 256GB version. You can start to see now why many are claiming the Note 10 is not a real Note, but rather a Galaxy S10 with an S Pen. The sad part is, in some ways the S10 is a better phone for less money. The toss-up here relies almost solely on the presence of the S Pen and how much memory you need.

Performance is still great on the Note 10 and 8GB of RAM works perfectly fine, but it won’t be able to keep as many apps cached as a Note 10 Plus with 12GB of RAM. Again, the Note 10 provides more than enough power for most people, but it’s going to have to attract a different kind of buyer than the usual Note owner. Whether Samsung is blending the Note and S series together is still open to debate. Samsung could be trying to appeal to an as-yet untapped Note audience — beyond just the power-users who need it all — or it might just be as simple as offering a smaller version of a popular phone and differentiating the value proposition.

Is the camera the same?… Almost

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 camera bump closeup

The Galaxy Note 10 has almost the exact same camera setup as the larger Note 10 Plus. The only difference is that the Note 10 skips the Depth Vision camera. This isn’t going to matter to most people, as it only really contributes to more realistic looking bokeh in portrait mode. The Depth Vision camera also lets you do cool AR measurement stuff with the camera, but I’m not sure that’s enough to justify second-guessing its absence. Here are a few shots taken with the Note 10. You’ll see similar dynamic range, color, and detail to the Note 10 Plus, but the same slight noise issues in low light we experienced on the more expensive version.

What’s the best thing about the Note 10?

The size, hands down. It’s a fantastic Samsung display with an S Pen that’s nowhere near as big as the bulkier Note 10 Plus. You get the same software experience, excellent performance, killer cameras, and fantastic S Pen functionality, but in a form factor that’s more realistic for most people.

What’s the worst thing about the Note 10?

Probably battery life. While it’s fine, it just isn’t enough to power a phone like this through a full day of serious use. When you put everything you can in a phone like a Note, you have to expect its owner to be a heavier-than-average user. The Note 10 battery is OK, but it’s not quite up to the task of meeting a power-user’s all-day needs. If you aren’t as fixated on battery life as some of us then you might be able to look past it; the battery life is, after all, much the same as a lot of other phones on the market. But the Note is meant to be better than all of them, and when it comes to battery life, it’s just kind of the same.

Is the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 worth it?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 rear glass on windowsill

I think so, yes. But only to a particular kind of buyer. It’s quite obviously not a full-blown Note in the traditional sense of the product line, where nothing is excluded and no compromises are made. In that sense, this feels a bit more like a Note 10 Lite with the Plus version being the “real” Note 10, rather than this being a regular Note and the Plus being some kind of upgraded “Pro” version.

Not everyone who likes the idea of a Note and its inimitable S Pen wants or needs top-tier everything, though. For those Note-curious types, 90% of the way is probably enough. That’s who this phone is for (along with anyone who wants a Note but can’t manage its sheer size). I’ve had “real” Notes in the past and while yes, they were more comprehensively “good” phones all-round, I still think the Note 10 is “good enough.” It basically comes down to the preconceptions you have about what a Note should be.

If all you want is the best specs, you can get a OnePlus 7 Pro or the soon-to-be-announced OnePlus 7T Pro for a lot less money. Fans of the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink Note of old will have to pony up an extra hundred and fifty bucks for the Note 10 Plus. If the S Pen isn’t make-or-break for you, then you should probably take a closer look at the Galaxy S10 series. But if all you want is a more manageable Note with almost everything the larger one offers, I don’t think you’ll be dissatisfied by the Note 10.

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